Toronto Star

Canadian specialist says Bettman missing point on CTE debate


While Gary Bettman continued to deny a link between concussion­s and the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalop­athy, or CTE, a Canadian sports medicine specialist says the NHL commission­er has missed the point about the public debate on brain injuries.

Bettman sent a 24-page letter to U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticu­t — also filed in U.S. District Court as part of a concussion lawsuit against NHL — saying the science between CTE and repeated head trauma was in its infancy and “the relationsh­ip between concussion­s and asserted clinical symptoms of CTE remains unknown.”

Bettman stuck to a carefully worded line he’s held for years, arguing the NHL has done all it could to protect players and that the science did not demand a bolder course.

Dr. Paul Echlin, a primary care sports medicine specialist at Elliott Sports Medicine Clinic in Burlington, said Bettman’s letter sent the wrong message and that it was elusive in limiting his response to CTE, while avoiding the discussion of other head injuries that can be traced to repeated head trauma.

“There are so many more things that are related to long-term brain injuries,” Echlin told the Star.

“Post-concussion syndrome is related to traumatic brain injury. Parkinson’s Syndrome. Prolonged and more severe loss of memory and cognition. There are so many disease processes that occur when you traumatize multiple areas of the brain.

“He’s not getting at the issue. You have to stop hitting the brain. Especially when you’re talking about 9 year olds or 12 year olds. “It is cumulative.” Echlin, who is not involved with the NHL or the lawsuit against it, said the league is risking the sport’s future by failing to make it safer. “Kids will play some other sport.” While Bettman is accurate in saying the science connecting CTE to repetitive head trauma is in its infancy, Echlin said researcher­s are close to proving it. “There is nothing else that all patients (with CTE) have in com-

“He’s not getting at the issue. You have to stop hitting the brain. Especially when you’re talking about 9 year olds or 12 year olds. It is cumulative.” DR. PAUL ECHLIN

mon except repetitive head trauma. We know CTE is the result of multiple trauma. That’s a given.”

Bettman defended the league’s “measured approach” toward the science of concussion­s.

At least six deceased NHLers have been diagnosed with CTE, while dozens of former players are suing the league over the repeated head shots they took playing in the NHL.

Bettman accused the plaintiffs in the concussion case for a public-relations assault on the topic. He ended the letter by retelling the story of the former NHLer Todd Ewen, who died of a reportedly self-inflicted gunshot wound last year at age 49.

Unlike some of the others who had their brains posthumous­ly examined, however, Ewen’s brain did not show signs of CTE.

“This, sadly, is precisely the type of tragedy that can result when plaintiffs’ lawyers and their media consultant­s jump ahead of the medical community and assert, without reliable scientific support, there is a causal link between concussion­s and CTE,” Bettman wrote. With files from The New York Times

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